Tag Archives: creativity

The Writer In the Tower

A writer must be comfortable planting their own thoughts into the minds of others. That is what writing is. Putting your ideas, perceptions, feelings, fantasies out there as “attractive nuisances” that sit dangling from low hanging leaves and drop into the heads of passing Creatures Who Read. If you are good at it, your thoughts will propogate widely, because they will have a stickiness or hard-to-shake quality that lodges them firmly in the brains of readers.

And so you will change the world.

This suggests that one way a writer can fail to become successful is to lack either the ability, or the will, to have their thoughts take up residence in other people’s brains. The ability comes from all the zillions of books and lessons on writing, the examples of brilliance that have come before, the hours and years of practice that begin to accumulate the first time a four year old future writer prints the letter “A.”

That’s the easy part.

The hard part may be the hidden difficulty, the unconscious resistance to letting yourself communicate that freely and deliberately with readers.

Writers are often introverts, even closet social phobics, and the whole idea of writing for them may be organized around having some way to exist in the world without having to interface very intensively with other human beings. Writers are fond of “mountaintop retreats” and quiet rooms and being in but not of a coffee shop crowd. We want peace and quiet. We are sometimes afraid of making a peep. We may want to say “sorry” if someone notices that we have interfered with their idiotic monologue.

But this can become a psychological barrier. A kind of classical Freudian “neurosis” – a “fear of success” pattern that we aren’t even aware of having, but that limits our success as writers and engaged human beings. We can be too timid, too shy, to imagine that we can actually influence and change the thinking of others. “Who – me??” we may ask, as we skitter back to our garrets.

Like it or not, we are all nodes of the Network. Each of us is, on average, six degrees of first-name-basis separation from every human being on the planet. We may live on mountaintops hidden away from the prying eyes and loud voices and critical opinions, so also away from the caring glances and warm friendships and warm bodies of others, and we may feel more comfortable or safe or at peace, less jangled and impinged on, that way.

But I assert that we still need, as writers, to cultivate the ability to let our minds couple with those of others. To have something of ourselves take up permanent residence inside the thoughts and so the bodies (neurologically speaking, at least) of readers.

Not to allow this, to withdraw in permanent shy obscurity, is to risk entombing ourselves inside our own mental dungeons — like mad, forgotten prisoners long ago bricked up in castle towers, sliding sheets of foolscap through narrow window cracks, unaware, or worse, foolishly reassured, that our words of experience and cries for help lie rotting, unread, at the bottoms of silent moats.


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Filed under Phobias, Writing, Writing and society, Writing profession

Writing One Good Sentence

Writing one good sentence… you sort of need to have something to write, good or bad.

But that may not be the best approach.

The best approach may be to first feel around the cracks in the wall until you can find the one that’s a door. Then, pry open the door — just enough to slip inside the dream world. Like finding a passage inside a pyramid: there are mysteries we cannot get away from because we know this is not just an ancient pile of rock, but a psychotic (to us) universe that is built into the structure (in addition to the art, writing, corpses placed inside.)  You just want to know — what is in there, of someone else’s experiences, fantasies, soul?

Just say what you find.

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“Where Good Ideas Come From” (book review)

One of the most important, and least-well appreciated, facts about creativity is that it seldom happens in a vacuum.  We imagine that a “creative genius” is someone whose ideas come out of thin air.  We may even feel cheated if we discover that the “genius’s” clever bit of writing or new gizmo was actually an adaptation of something that already existed.  (For instance, people have sometimes criticized Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack”  because he “just” adapted his witty aphorisms from ancient philosophers, the Bible, etc.)  And yet, new ideas are generally based on some kind of adaptation, borrowing, or accidental meshing of older ones.  If “creative” people are good at anything, they are mostly good at collecting and playing with old ideas, parts, and observations, and in the process articulating something that seems “new.”

Steven Johnson’s new book, Where Good Ideas Come From, is the best book on creativity I’ve ever read.  He provides a kind of catalog of creative processes that goes far beyond the ancient theories of the mystics and the psychoanalysts and contemporary psychological researchers and writers on creativity.  (As a species, psychologists are socialized to suppress their creativity, so that’s perhaps not surprising.)

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1531 words on 1000 words

(This is my morning’s 1000 word writing exercise.)

There is something delightfully seductive about free writing. It’s all about creativity, letting the muse loose, going productively wild and crazy. Best of all, a thousand word burst gives you that chest-thumping, Hemingway-eque certainty that by God, today I’ve been a writer! Wow.

But while free writing is a good way to tap new ideas and to get the flow going in your tired early morning writerly brain, there may be some times when a writer should use the exercise cautiously. Not because we’re likely to unleash some kind of dangerous awarenesses (shades of 1950s Freudians rise here and point fingers, but they are, after all, dead if they are “shades.” Ignore them.) And free writing isn’t generally a bad idea in terms of nurturing those nice, cozy writerly feelings, which in themselves are fine things to nurture. Keeping the brain tuned to the task of writing is very good for one’s development as a scrivener.

The main danger, psychologically and productively speaking, may be that freewriting exercises can be a splendid way to avoid doing whatever real writing you need to be doing. Continue reading

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Filed under Writing, Writing profession